Is there something about Learning Technologists? #EdTechBook

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What are the distinguishing characteristics of a Learning Technologist, those qualities that serve to identify them and differentiate them from other roles?

This question is at the heart of a chapter I’m writing with David Walker (@drdjwalker) for a new #edtechbook edited by David Hopkins (@hopkinsdavid) – and we want your input!

As the role of Learning Technologist has develop and evolved across the further and higher education sectors, many early career Learning Technologist are now in senior positions, spread across a variety of departmental locations and increasingly have responsibility for developing and actioning learning and teaching strategies and frameworks.

For the chapter we plan to draw on our own career experiences to examine the case for the distinctiveness of the role but also to highlight natural synergies with others working across institutions and cases where worlds sometimes collide. What we really want however is to frame the discussion with contributions from the community, so via the medium of blogs, Twitter or performance dance we’d love your thoughts on the following questions:

Q: What makes a Learning Technologist and how does the role differ from those working in IT Support, the Library or Careers?

Our thoughts: Although many LTs have come from an IT support role, they now need to have a far more holistic and pedagogically grounded view of the use of technology for learning and teaching. Learning Technologists tend to work in a more staff facing role, so the relationship with students and the curriculum is subtly (or maybe not so subtly) different to other colleagues such as IT support staff/ librarians/ learning advisors/career advisors.

Q: What are the distinguishing characteristics of a Learning Technologist?

Our thoughts: David and I have had quite long ranging discussions about this. We think that central to the role of the Learning Technologist is the relationship they (we) have with the curriculum and curriculum/learning design. In our own experiences we have seen a shift away from the showing people what buttons to press to a far richer dialogue around effective use of technologies that best suit overall pedagogical objectives and disciplinary practices. So a Learning Technologist is always thinking about the processes related to effective learning and teaching. The relationship learning technologists have to curriculum design and design principles is something we both feel strongly about.

Q: Is there something fundamental that distinguishes Learning Technologists from educational developers? Do we still need both roles?

Our thoughts: If a fundamental part of the role of a Learning Technologist is their knowledge of educational design practice then should we be evolving into educational developers, or is this still a distinct discipline?

Indeed as new job titles such as Learning Technology Advisors, Learning Architects etc emerge does anyone really know? As more “senior” Learning Technologists take up more senior positions within larger departments/directorates (that often include librarians, educational developers and Learning Technologists working side-by-side) and are responsible for developing and actioning learning and teaching strategies/frameworks and increasing the quantity and quality  research does it really matter? Are we just grappling with the same issues but with a bit of TEL goodness thrown into the mix? Is TEL research mature enough to be seen as distinct from traditional educational development research, and should it continue to be so? Or as our digital and physical learning environments continue to evolve, are we now seeing the need for new a hub/space with people that work there providing effective bridges between traditional spaces such as disciplines, educational development, developing digital literacies, the curriculum, research, staff and students?

A key milestone in the professionalisation of the role of the Learning Technologist, and acknowledgement of the roles increasing significance in pedagogical design processes, became apparent with the launch of the Higher Education Academy’s revised UK Professional Standards Framework in 2011. The updated framework – a set of professional standards for the HE sector to facilitate benchmarking and align professional development provision – emphasised the need to afford greater recognition to the role of emerging technologies, and importantly, the need to extend opportunities to undertake teaching qualifications to all staff working in HE with teaching responsibilities. The wider recognition of those who provide significant input to the process of supporting teaching and learning ensures that individuals, such as Learning Technologists, are able to access and engage with relevant development opportunities – such as Postgraduate Certificates in Higher Education. By acknowledging the wider array of stakeholders who contribute to the educational environment and student experience, the revised framework offered the potential for institutions to align the professional values and practices of those actively engaged in teaching and learning. For Learning Technologists the revised framework provided a basis against which to evidence their professionalism (for career progression, reward or other forms of recognition) and a mechanism to guide their ongoing personal and professional development.

Which leads to our final question or perhaps answer . . . has the role of the learning technologist evolved into that of the digital pedagogue?

We’d love to get some community input, so if you have any answers/thoughts about these questions and our answers please share them in the comments section, or via twitter using the #EdTechBook hashtag and we’ll try and incorporate as many of them as possible into our chapter.

25 thoughts on “Is there something about Learning Technologists? #EdTechBook

  1. Am I allowed to reply here … 😉

    Q1 See here, my presentation to ALTC this year in support of my ‘highly commended’ Learning Technologist of the Year Award: http://www.slideshare.net/hopkinsdavid/2014-learning-technologist-of-the-year-award

    Q2 In my experience I see no difference in the people in the two roles, only from the perception of the parent manager or institution on what is expected from both the people and the role. I get quite agitated when I see disagreements online about the differences .. we are after all doing pretty much the same job? Perhaps it is a historical difference, that LTs were more technology-focused and EDs were more pedagogic, but is that still true? I don’t see myself as technology-focused at all, I look more towards appropriate and considered use of technology, where it matters, and that is enhances experiences, not confuses or detracts from it. Is that a digital pedagogue? I think so.

    Q3 I do not see the need to dilute what we do by having multiple titles for our roles – my current role is an eLearning Consultant (effectively a Senior Learning Technologist). In a Business School this title is more aligned to a business environment, but it could have other historical reasons. if we are indeed sharing many responsibilities and approaches (less ‘click-this’ and more ‘this is why you may want to click-this’) then the more the individual titles are meaningless.

    Q4 Yes

    Thanks folks, feel free to ignore 😉

    David

  2. That’s an interesting post Sheila. I have worked in IT (many years ago), done PGCert in 1970s, taught in schools, FE and HE and been using tech in my HE teaching since 1989 and Internetty stuff since mid 90s. I am interested in how learning technologists can work with teachers, lecturers, teaching assistants, students, etc. but I do get a bit worried by talk of role differentiation. Would you being a digital pedagogue mean that wasn’t a role that a teacher might have too? I remember being at a CETIS Pedagogy forum meeting many years ago and hearing the term ‘academic’ being used almost as a term of abuse. Now I know that there are members of staff in HE who resist the adoption of tech – I should do as part of my last role before retirement was e-learning champion. But TBH, just as many problems came from Prof Services (not really the LTs) lack of engagement with academic staff and students) when determining requirements.
    Apologies if I misunderstood what you said. One of the joys of my time teaching in HE was curriculum development – I would have loved to have done that in conjunction with LTs but it would have to have stemmed from mutual respect.

    • Hi Frances

      Thank you so much for your response. Just what we were hoping for. Respect is crucial and I agree differenatiation can cause a whole host of problems. I would hope that a digital pedagogue would include teachers. I think we need to articulate our thinking a bit more, hence the post:-0 we’re coming more from the developing role of an LT and what (if anything) makes that distinct from other more established roles. Respect is key too – nothing is going to work/change unless it exists.

      Sheila

      • I just reread the post and did a bit more thinking. My subject discipline was Information Systems and spent years with students exploring issues in IS implementation – social/ politicial/technical. My practical and research experience with LTech just reinforces for me the dangers of the split between users and developers/implementers. Even the terms are wrong as it is teachers who ‘implement’ pedagogy in sociotechnical contexts. I’ll have to give this some more thought but it occurs to me that the ‘prof services’ academic split that I have observed in HE orgs may be designed / facilitate increasing ‘outsourcing’ of teaching function, enabling devaluing of human aspects, diverting education cash to tech companies. Hmmm!

      • Thanks Frances – hadn’t thought of that so your thoughts really appreciated. We defo don’t want to support that. Think we may have opened a can of worms here

      • It’s just an initial idea – need to think it through. May be based on my own anecdotal experience alone 😉

  3. Q1.Although there may be subtle differences in the focus of the LT across different sectors of a HE organisation, I believe we are now seeing a convergence of approaches and responsibilities. This may not hold in all organisations with centralised/localised support models, but there is a greater expectation for IT Teams to be directly supporting academic staff, library staff being involved in eLearning projects and careers publishing online training courses.

    The LT should have a strong understanding of native institutional learning systems (VLE, lecture capture, etc), with a good awareness of how Web2.0 tools can be used to improve learning opportunities. As ever, being attentive, creative, helpful and a good communicator are essential. Sadly, there is a gulf in learning design skills across LT’s which is partly the fault of a lack of clarity in the role design, recruitment methods, in-house training and models of accreditation (CMALT is a good starter).

  4. Q3: Yes there is, and yes we should have both roles. However, this can have unexpected consequences. I once recruited an excellent instructional designer to a team I was leading at the time. The plan was for them to work closely with the academic and clinical staff to design blended learning solutions for the learning technologists to build. Unfortunately, this confused staff who had previously expected the LTs to fulfil this role and it upset the LTs who previously enjoyed the ‘all-rounder’ responsibilities. I am sure I could have managed the whole situation better, but there often exist mixed responsibilities between the two role, and depending on personalities there can be a complete overlap.

    Q4. Yes. Technologies are being much easier to use, but there remains a need in academic institutions for dedicated staff to make sense of the confusion surrounding integration, usability, security, and application.

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  7. Very quick comment, I will leave a more detailed one later – when I am talking to staff and want to quickly (and flippantly?) explain the difference between me and an IT technician
    “If the technology is broken, you want to talk to IT
    If you are broken, ring me”

  8. Hi Sheila
    a little late – I know – but wanted to share, very briefly, my thoughs on question 1. Though I work quite closely with both IT support and the library, I see the role of a learning technologist as quite distinct. The main difference (as hinted by Joseph in his comment) is that learning technologists have (or should have) a much better understanding of the teaching/learning context and can see the bigger picture of how a technology can be used to support that. For IT support, the focus is the technology. As learning technologists, the technology should never be the focus – good pedagogy is paramount. Moreover, we have to be able to identify where technology won’t help. Library staff, in contrast, have more of a focus on providing discipline specific information/content and access to this. Again, there is less focus on pedagogy.
    At my institution, the learning technologies team has really very few links with Careers at all. Perhaps because, within our hierarchy, Careers is part of “students services”, while we deal primarily with academic and academic support staff.

    I’m looking forward to your chapter, and still trying to work through my thoughts for my own!

    Sharon

  9. If there’s still chat on this?
    I’ve pondered for a while as I felt that from my own position I really couldn’t decide what title/category this should be, then realised this is an old problem. I’d agree with David that this is about what you do rather than what you are called, and the difficulty in defining this is what causes confusion. When I tried to follow this through, I wandered down thinking about the process by which many ‘learning technologists’/’digital pedagogues’ arrive in the role: it could be viewed as being through going beyond a single discipline and bridging to a co-existing discipline in order to make them complementary. That is, the role is about bridging and thereby allowing those/knowledge on either side of the divide to reach each other; it’s translating for the different disciplines, but also about understanding both so as to recognise and harness the emergent properties from the meeting of disciplines.
    Perhaps.
    What exactly is it that you do 😉 ?

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